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MCLEOD: Questions are the secret to connecting with people

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Photo by Corinne Nicholson

Everyone is looking for the magic bullet, the secret words that will make our spouse melt, our co-worker cooperate and our customer giggle with glee as they sign on the dotted line.

After 20 years as a sales and business coach and a decade spent helping people with their personal relationships, I've discovered that in most situations, the secret statement is rarely a statement.

It's a question.

Nothing is more exciting or affirming than someone who is sincerely interested in us, and the best way to demonstrate interest is by asking questions.

It's ironic. On an emotional level, we all know how wonderful it feels to have someone take a sincere interest in us. We immediately engage, we feel comfortable and we share more information.

But for whatever reason, when we try to get someone interested in us or try to persuade someone to go along with our plans, we often take the opposite approach. We wind up talking more about ourselves than we do asking about them.

I've observed thousands of business and interpersonal interactions, and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt: The people who are the most well-liked and who are the most successful at getting others to go along with their ideas are the people who ask the best questions.

So why don't we do it more often?

The common assumption is that we're self-absorbed and don't care.

It's true that in many cases we're often so overwhelmed with our own lives that asking about others doesn't register on our radar. But I've found that, given the chance, most people really do want to know and understand each other better. They just don't know how to go about it.

The reasons we don't ask enough questions include everything from lack of planning (we tend to plan what we're going to say rather than what we're going to ask) to lack of expertise (it's hard to come up with questions when you don't have a context) to fear of the unknown (it might take the conversation in an uncomfortable direction).

However, with a little planning and practice, it's actually not that hard to get people to open up. But you have to be sincere.

We're all familiar with the old, "How are you?" that doesn't mean a thing. And anyone who's ever kicked a tire at a car dealership knows that, "Don't you think you'd look great driving this?" isn't really a question; it's just a feeble attempt to close.

Good questions, the kind that truly connect us with others, come from a place of true interest. Here are three examples (more at www.triangleoftruth.com) try them the next time you want to sincerely connect:

* What do you enjoy most about (insert important activity)?

Asking someone to describe the best part of their job, or parenting, or a hobby or even just their day, sets a positive tone and opens a window into their emotions.

* What's the most challenging part of (something they spend a lot of time on)?

This demonstrates that you're genuinely interested in what it's like to live in their world.

* What are your highest hopes for the (something they care about)?

Whether it's about their job, their church or their child, when someone shares their hopes with you, they're opening up a piece of their heart. They're telling you what really matters to them.

Your job as the listener is to treasure the information.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, consultant, and the best-selling author of "The Triangle of Truth." Sign up for her newsletter at www.TriangleofTruth.com.